Axel-In-Charge: Facing the 'Divided' Marvel NOW! Future
DC Comics Co-Publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee sat down with the folks at ICv2 recently for a wide-ranging interview about the state of DC. With DC’s New 52 launching Wednesday, the interview comes at a particularly auspicious time. Here are some highlights:
Comics sales: DiDio says overall sales in the direct market are flat, but periodicals are softening, because people are shifting to trades, converting to digital or falling out of the market entirely because of the lack of interest or money. Lee brings up piracy as a possible factor as well. On the other hand, despite the problems at Borders, mass-market graphic novel sales are up.
Prices: DiDio’s take on rolling back the cover price to $2.99:
While we didn’t show increased sales because of it, I believe that we didn’t have the level of erosion that would have occurred if we had decided to push our books to the higher price point.
So, it didn’t make things better, but they would have gotten worse without it. Lee chimes in that $2.99 is a better price for bringing in new readers, and he adds an interesting point:
… the history of comics has been one of price inelasticity, where fans could not be induced to buying something at any price, and yet were willing to pay a very hefty price for books that they absolutely love. It’s not necessarily the best or healthy approach for the industry. We should really have a situation where being able to hold the price points down should show benefits in sales.
I think what he’s saying is that they can’t force people to buy something they don’t want, even if they price it cheap.
The New 52: Really, this topic has been beaten to death at this point, but if you’re just back from a vacation at the North Pole, DiDio provides a nice, quick summary of why they are bothering: The characters were dated.
Event fatigue: Are readers sick of complicated multi-series crossovers? DiDio sticks his fingers in his ears and says, “I can’t hear you!” Well, not exactly:
DiDio: First things first. What retailers have identified as event fatigue is usually what we see as a weak story that is not exciting or interesting to the fans themselves.
[ICv2] We were trying not to say that … (laughter)
DiDio: No — that’s the reality of it. The reality of it is that “event fatigue” only means that they don’t like what they’re reading. It doesn’t mean that they’re tired of big stories, or tired of multi-part crossovers. They just want to make sure that it has value and weight.
And Flashpoint has done quite well, thankyouverymuch. Also, the New 52? Not an event, so there’s no problem:
Now when we get to 52, people are identifying this as an event and this is not an event, therefore I guess they can’t get fatigued.
Lee chimes in that any events will be driven by the desires of creators, not the need to fill up the market with books.
Digital sales: With the launch of the New 52, DC is doing something unprecedented in the industry: Releasing all titles in print and digital on the same day, at the same price. Lee sees this as an opportunity to not only increase digital sales but increase sales overall by bringing in new and lapsed readers:
Our initial sales data from a year and a half of digital sales shows it’s a slightly different reader, shows that we’re reaching people that aren’t necessarily near a comic book shop or don’t live near a comic book shop.
Piracy: Lee gets it:
… the fact that the bit torrent sites are updated the day the books come out, the fact that they’re so accessible and the fact that the trades are still selling very well, speaks to the fact that people are still following the hobby, but in an illegal way. If you give a lot people the opportunity to buy the content legally that we’ll some conversion of people who are illegally downloading them to legally paying for content if they can get it day and date.
While he doesn’t quite connect the dots, it suggests that the drop in periodical sales may be linked to digital piracy — people are getting their fresh content online but buying trades to keep. It isn’t that different from the webcomic model, really, except that it’s illegal. Of course, DC is gambling that people will pay print prices for digital, and so far that hasn’t worked out all that well, although those legit customers he mentions — the ones who don’t live near a comics store—may be willing to do so.
Younger readers: DiDio’s response to the question about getting kids to read comics is rather disappointing, at least to me:
Right now we’re determining kids as being teenagers at this moment and that’s where our focus is with the New 52 books. But we’re also still publishing a kids line for 11 and younger, and that hasn’t changed at all.
That makes the whole kids’ line seem like an afterthought. It’s too bad, because kids love superheroes and there are lots of opportunities to do superheroes well for kids, but no one seems to be interested. There’s no point in doing separate outreach to teenagers; they hate that. They think of themselves as adults and want to read adult comics.
There’s a lot more in the interview, and it’s well worth taking the time to read, but that’s the meat of it. And for a refreshing followup, check out Heidi MacDonald’s wide-ranging essay on the carnage at the end of DC’s current run and the promise of digital.